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I'm looking for good book recommendations for preparing for the International Physics Olympiad. As stated on the IPhO syllabus, the topics covered are about the same as those in the first year or two of a physics degree:

  • Mechanics: kinematics, dynamics, celestial mechanics, hydrodynamics
  • Electromagnetism: Maxwell's equations, circuits, matter in EM fields
  • Waves: damped/driven harmonic oscillators, waves, interference and diffraction, geometrical optics
  • Modern: special relativity, matter waves, particle and nuclear physics
  • Thermodynamics: laws of thermodynamics, heat engines, phase transitions

However, there's less of an emphasis on complicated calculations, and more of an emphasis on problem solving and insight. For example, multivariable calculus is almost never used; instead many questions can be elegantly solved by symmetry. I'm looking for textbooks or problem books to bring me to this level, starting from the level of high school physics.

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Before answering, please see our policy on resource recommendation questions. Please write substantial answers that detail the style, content, and prerequisites of the book, paper or other resource. Explain the nature of the resource so that readers can decide which one is best suited for them rather than relying on the opinions of others. Answers containing only a reference to a book or paper will be removed!

marked as duplicate by David Z Mar 22 '12 at 23:28

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migrated from theoreticalphysics.stackexchange.com Mar 22 '12 at 15:49

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    $\begingroup$ There is a list of books in this webpage: jyu.fi/tdk/kastdk/olympiads. Probably you will find some of the books listed in the Internet... $\endgroup$ – DaniH Mar 22 '12 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also, the title of the question is a bit misleading. Should it be better "Best physics books for high school physics olympiads?" $\endgroup$ – DaniH Mar 22 '12 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Make Community Wiki? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 22 '12 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ Book recommendation questions are pretty tightly regulated around here, and this doesn't provide anything particularly new that isn't already in one of the other book recommendation threads. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 22 '12 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ For the IYPT, another Physics Olympiad, with a higher focus on experimental physics and scientific discussions, there's a special Reference Kit, which gives you the background knowledge for solving the specific problems, sometimes there are some more general books on the list, too. Here's the link: kit.ilyam.org $\endgroup$ – Carina Aug 9 '16 at 19:25
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I recently solved a whole bunch of these.

  • Old IPhO problems (first ~18 olympiads--at that time they were only amongst the Soviet countries). These aren't that hard. I have a RAR file of these.
  • I.E. Irodov-Problems in general physics--these are fun at first, but later you'll realise that they are more calculus-based than physics based. You may have already solved these. Note that much of the book is out of IPhO syllabus, especially in electrodynamics. That shouldn't stop you, but since you may not have much time, then you should choose your topics carefully (the formula list at the beginning of each section gives you an idea of in-or-out of syllabus)
  • SS Krotov- Much more fundamentals based than Irodov, and harder as well. I personally haven't solved much (don't have the book--don't have time); but whatever I have solved has been fun. But this is even more out of syllabus.
  • Use Resnick for strengthening your concepts. Yes, you probably knew that.
  • Take a look at past year IPhO problems(listed on the site). These aren't too hard either, though I believe that the time factor may change stuff.
  • Most probably your country will hold a camp to train all candidates for this, but just in case: try to read up on experimental physics. Easiest thing to do would be to look at the past years IPhO experimental problems.
  • The 2012 olympiad is being hosted in Estonia. Check out their Physics cup. When I last saw these problems, I really liked them...
  • If you are trying for IPhO 2012, at this point your country will probably provide a camp(once you pass a qualifying exam). There they will provide you with books and stuff to solve, so you can just sit back and let them do the choosing :)
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  • $\begingroup$ About "what level" I have reached - I am a graduate student in theoretical physics (string theory?). Most of your book recommendations seem to be problem sets. I was more like looking for good learning material suggestions - on that front you have only recommended the well known book by Resnick and Halliday. Anything else? $\endgroup$ – user6818 Mar 23 '12 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Anirbit: Really, for physics olympiads there's not much more learning one can do. All you need to be able to do is digest complicated setups and solve them--to that end, solving problems is the only way to go. As far as concepts go, the olympiads are pretty basic on concepts(high school level concepts are more than enough). Resnick covers these extremely well, so I don't think another book is needed. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 24 '12 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Anirbit: Do you want book recommendations for an olympiad, or you just want books at that level? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Mar 24 '12 at 2:35
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Russian problems are very good. Try this collection of problems.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Sidious Lord The above doesn't seem to physic olympiad level stuff. It looks like undergraduate stuff. $\endgroup$ – user6818 Mar 23 '12 at 22:46

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